Carhartt Base Force Lightweight Bottoms Review
Cons: Instant fabric tear, baggy fit, sticky exterior gridded fleece
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Designed to be worn underneath work pants when the weather turns cold, the Carhartt Base Force Lightweight bottoms are built with a textured mini-grid polyester (think: gridded fleece) to eke out an extra bit of warmth by creating additional air space. They offer an extra boost of warmth over other lightweight models we tested and are indeed a great set of bottoms for laboring in. After an unseasonably cold front dumped snow about a month too early, these got us through the last of our farm work by providing just the right amount of warmth.
Insulated clothing works by holding body heat close to our skin, working to raise skin temperature and, ultimately, our core temperature. Although the Base Force Lightweight bottoms have the right idea at heart, the design concept is a bit flawed. The raised mini-grid polyester would work much better if it were on the inside of the pants, creating an insulating warm-air layer right next to your skin, instead of between the base layer and your pants (which are likely already exposed to the colder outside air at the ankle).
Looking at these from the inside, the design and construction are much like every other 100% polyester bottoms we have tested. The synthetic fabric is relatively thin, and an open weave allows for the easy escape of warm, moist air. The baggy fit, particularly around the ankles, does not particularly allow for moisture to be wicked away efficiently. But the "Force FastDry" does indeed dry very fast, even if these bottoms tend to accumulate sweat in places. We were perfectly comfortable wearing the Base Force Lightweight bottoms on an early morning getting out of camp but had to take them off once the sun got too strong.
Comfort and Fit
Much like a lightweight version of beloved gridded fleece for your bottom-half, the Base Force Lightweight pants are soft and comfortable to wear. The slightly baggy fit was a nice break from the norm, but we must warn you that these do tend to run a bit large, so you might want to consider sizing down. A size medium was a bit too baggy on the skinny mountaineer's frame of our 5'10", 155lb lead tester—Carhartt's model suggests that this size would fit much better on a similar frame standing at 6'2".
Although we have no gripes in terms of comfort, the fit is a different story. These bottoms fit very well through the seat and upper thighs, but they flair to a baggy fit around the knees and particularly around the ankles. This can lead to uncomfortable bunching and often required constant adjustment to keep them in the right place. These issues are not helped at all by the sticky, gridded fleece that has a tendency to grab onto the inside of your outer-layer pant leg.
Gripes over the fit can be amended if you are able to try these pants on before purchasing, but underlying issues with durability are harder to foresee. On our first morning backpacking, before we really even had a chance to properly test the Base Force Lightweight bottoms, they managed to develop a tear where the mini-grid pant material meets the waistband. This was particularly surprising because we hadn't even left our tent. But to its credit, these pants hardly showed any signs of wear or tear after our overly-aggressive abrasion test — this is certainly a testament to a company known for designing hard scrabble workwear. Be mindful of possible snags and tears, but you likely don't have to worry about surface abrasion with these bottoms.
For those looking to add just a touch of extra warmth to their layering system—especially for lower output activities and work-related wear—we consider the Base Force Lightweight bottoms an impressive option.
Offering a bit of extra warmth without the extra weight, the Carhartt Base Force Lightweight is a price-conscious option that backs up its affordability with remarkable performance. If the designers at Carhartt could solve some of the durability issues — by, for example, opting to incorporate stronger, flatlock seams — this pair of long underwear bottoms have the potential for significant improvement in rankings.
— Aaron Rice